a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.
Some may wonder how Aladdin got to be here — the score, after all, isn’t exactly new. But Chad Beguelin’s additions, as well as some Alan Menken and Howard Ashman trunk songs — “Proud of Your Boy” being the finest (no, the Clay Aiken version doesn’t negate its newness, in case you were wondering) — does make it slightly more than 50% new, and that’s all it takes to qualify for this category. Disney wanted a nomination for the late Howard Ashman (he passed away in 1991 before the animated film was complete), and they got it. But more than that — he deserves it.
Not a huge fan of either If/Then or Gentleman’s Guide‘s scores, it was tough choosing which to put in the higher spot. Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s pastiche score for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder nods to every contemporary (and not) composer and then some. There’s nothing really original here, but that could be forgiven if the songs weren’t so utterly forgettable. While Lutvak knows his musical history and it’s a pleasure to hear a more classically-leaning score, A Gentleman’s Guide might’ve played faster and funnier as a music-less farce.
If/Then might be the typical fare from Next to Normal‘s writing team Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey — a blur of pop ballads that all sound basically the same — but at least the songs don’t bring the action to a halt each time a chord sounds. While also largely forgettable, they are enjoyable in the moment, especially as performed by the committed Idina Menzel (and, really, who doesn’t enjoy a song titled “What the Fuck?”).
The most sophisticated nominee here, by far, is The Bridges of Madison County, which weaves country and folk flavors into a grand score that flirts with the operatic — but in Jason Robert Brown’s typically pop-accessible way. There are rhapsodic duets and soaring solos tinged with melancholy and longing. It’s beautiful, heartwrenching stuff (made even more so by its stars Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale). Brown just received the Drama Desk Award for his work, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be a winner here, too. Even if they weren’t taken with the show as a whole, voters should appreciate the scope and level of craft in Bridges that makes it stand out from the rest of the nominees.